After years of stops and starts and hard work by countless individuals, the day finally came that Red Deer College (RDC) was granted degree-granting status.
The decision was announced to a packed house at the Red Deer College Arts Centre by Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and RDC President Joel Ward on March 1st, just a few days after Grande Prairie Regional College was also given the ability to grant their own degrees.
“In our government, we see post-secondary education as many things,” she said. “It is an economic development tool; it is a diversification tool; it is a community building tool and a human right.
“We need to always be thinking of ways that all Albertans can develop their own opportunities in a way that makes their lives better.”
The announcement is 25 years in the making, with RDC being turned down twice previously by the former Progressive Conservative governments.
“We have been singing this song for awhile,” Ward said. “This government listened and they acted. I was tired of governments in the past telling us to be bold and innovative. When we become bold and innovative, they ran. This government didn’t run.”
Notley credited Red Deer MLAs Barb Miller and Kim Schreiner for continuing to advocate for the, “Needs and wants of Central Alberta and Red Deer in particular.” The Premier also thanked Minister of Advanced Education Marlin Schmidt.
“The Minister has been very committed to the overall mandate that we gave to him about improving accessibility, affordability and the prevalence of post-secondary education across the province,” she said.
Schmidt said there is still plenty of work to be done by RDC, his Ministry and the Campus Alberta Quality Council.
“We are all committed to making sure this happens as quickly as possible, making sure the focus is on providing high-quality degree-programs for Red Deer College students,” he said.
Kass Scholze, RDC Students’ Association president said in a release that this is a big day for Central Alberta students.
“This change means students will no longer be forced to uproot their lives to complete their education,” she said. “It will allow access to degrees right here at home within the next few years. Students will be able to complete their degrees on a campus and in a community invested in their success and future graduates will be a vital part of Central Alberta.”
According to Ward, the building of the Gary W. Harris Canada Games Centre, the new Alternative Energy Lab and the new RDC residence have all been part of the lead up to this announcement, but said there is still plenty of work to do and that expectations need to be tempered.
“We will work with government over a period of time and I believe it will take 3-5 years for us to get to the place where we are saying, ‘We are doing everything you would expect a good university to be doing’,” he said.
Many of the processes involved with adding degree programs are the same processes that are already in place at RDC.
“If we have a program that meets demand and has a strong business case, government approves and funds it,” he said.
Ward said RDC will continue to offer everything they currently offer, including apprenticeships, continuing education, certificates and collaborative degrees through their partnering institutions.
RDC currently hasn’t asked for funds from the Province and Notley and Ward both said that process will be incremental. Schmidt pointed out the financial benefits degree-granting will have on the region.
“When assessing costs, it is important to remember there is a significant cost to the City of Red Deer to not have degree-granting ability,” Schmidt said. “The economic opportunities that are lost without having the ability to grant degrees is significant compared to the cost of adding degree-granting.
“When you weigh these things out, it just makes sense.”
Notley added, “We believe it is absolutely manageable within our long-term funding outlook.”
Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer acknowledged the economic importance of RDC being able to grant their own degrees.
“This accomplishment benefits all Central Albertans as it will help retain our local population,” she said in a release. “Central Albertans can now choose to complete their advanced education in Red Deer and stay in our community long-term, building our skilled labour force, enhancing and diversifying our regional economy, and increasing our innovation and collective knowledge.”
Ward said that no new name for RDC has been selected at this time.
“This will be a community decision. We will work with our government partners and we will find the appropriate name at the appropriate time,” he said.
He added the Government of Alberta, “Made the right decision and that decision will impact our region for a very long time.”